Does your baby have periods – often early in the evening, when he cries inconsolably? If so, chances are that he’s suffering from colic. See if MM’s tips help make a difference…
A gripping issue
The first thing you need to know about colic is that it’s extremely common, affecting as many as one in five babies. It’s most common in the first three months of life, often surfacing around the third week, and it’s rare for colic to persist much beyond three months. But, when you’re a distraught and exhausted parent, it can often seem to last much longer! The distressing thing about colic is that it’s totally relentless and, no matter what you do, you feel unable to comfort your child for what can often be three-hour crying spells. Totally upsetting for both him and you!
Causes of colic
No one is quite sure what causes colic, but intestinal spasms and wind are suspected of playing a major part. Often there is a build-up of tiny bubbles of trapped wind in a baby’s bowel and, while, babies will usually bring up this wind as a burp after a feed, smaller bubbles of wind may be more difficult to release, causing discomfort and pain.
There are no tests to specifically diagnose colic, but once other causes are eliminated (by a GP or paediatrician) then colic may well be diagnosed. GPs and midwives will often consider colic as a regular pattern of crying in an otherwise healthy, well-fed infant under three months old that seemingly has no explanation. The crying, which is most common in the early evening, tends to go on for a longer period of time than is usual in baby who doesn’t have colic, and often results in an ‘angry’ appearance, with a red face and screwed-up eyes.
Other symptoms of a colicky baby include:
- intermittent, stabbing pain
- drawing legs up
- refusing comfort
- curling up or writhing.
Take comfort from the fact that, while colic is highly distressing for both baby and parents, it isn’t harmful. Nevertheless, it’s always worth asking your GP or midwife for advice the first time your baby screams inconsolably. Although it may have all the appearance of colic, you don’t want to miss other, possibly serious reasons for the crying.
There’s no doubt that, when it comes to colic, prevention is always better than cure. Try these tactics…
If your baby only takes small feeds, try using 4fl oz bottles instead of the 9fl oz ones, so that he doesn’t suck in too much air when he’s drinking. Using a slow-flow teat (or one of the specific anti-colic teats or bottles on the market) may also help him to stop gulping in air. Camomile tea can make your baby feel calmer, so you could try giving him a few drops of weak camomile tea in his bottle.
Babies, who are being breastfed, can also be affected by colic, simply because you can give your baby wind by eating certain foods. Work on the basis that, if a food makes YOU windy, then it’s likely to be passed on to your baby. If you suspect a particular food, avoid it for a few days and see if your baby’s colic improves. Then, reintroduce the food and see if his colic worsens.
Whichever way your feed your baby, you may find that feeding him in an upright position may help prevent the build-up of wind. With practice, it should be possible to either breast or bottlefeed in an upright position.
Treatment not cure
Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ for colic, just treatment.
- Infant colic drops (available from pharmacies) can be given before a feed and these can often help. (Bear in mind that the old ‘traditional’ treatment – gripe water – actually contains alcohol and should therefore be avoided if possible, or used in moderation).
- Letting your baby suck on your finger or on a sterilised dummy can help to comfort or distract him.
- Rocking your baby gently in your arms, putting him into a bouncy seat or taking him out for a walk in a pram can provide a distraction and help to calm him.
- ‘White noise’, ie, the noise from a tumble dryer, vacuum cleaner or TV, has also been shown to calm very young babies under four months.